SUBJECT :The India side of the Sunderbans has received the prestigious ‘Wetlands of International importance ‘tag under the Ramsar Conveention on Wetlands, making it largest protected wetland in the country. 

Kolkata, February 3, 2019: The India side of the Sunderbans has received the prestigious ‘Wetlands of International importance ‘tag under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, making it largest protected wetland in the country. Home to the royal Bengal tiger, this is the second Ramsar site in Bengal after the East Kolkata Wetlands, which got the tag in 2002. The decision was taken at a Ramsar convention in Geneva on Friday.

The Bangladesh part of the Sunderbans had received the Ramsar tag way back in 1992. Together, both sides of the Wetlands spread over an area of over 10,000 sq km rivals the famed Congo River basin and the Amazon estuary as one of the largest transboundary wetlands in the world.

Ramsar Convention, named after the Iranian city where it was adopted in 1971, is an government treaty that provides the framework for international cooperation for the conservation and use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention came into force in 1975.

Welcoming the Ramsar tag for the Sunderbans, which was recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site 1987, environmentalists said it would not only help the world’s largest mangrove to feature more prominently in international treaties on bio-diversity and migratory birds, but also help fight climate change and conserve the unique flora and fauna of the region.

The recognition comes a year after the West Bengal  forest department made a formal bid for the Ramsar recognition following a nod from the state government. The Sunderban Wetland was listed as the 27th site in India on the official Ramsar website on Friday evening.

“The decision was taken in Geneva in a convention for wetlands on Friday. The news has been posted on the Ramsar website. This is a big achievement for the state and recognition of sustained effort by the state government to conserve and protect the wetland and its rich bio-diversity. It also reaffirms the trust of Ramsar Convention and the international community that we will be able to maintain the high standards in projecting and conserving the wetland,” said Ravi Kant Sinha, principal chief conservator of forests, wildlife and chief wildlife warden of West Bengal.

The Sunderbans Wetland is located within the largest mangrove forest in the world, which protects the mainland from cyclones, tidal surges and intrusion of salt water. It Is also home to many rare and critically endangered species like the northern river terrapin, the Irrawaddy dolphin and fishing cat while attracting a large variety of migratory birds.

Unlike the East Kolkata Wetlands which was recognized as a Ramsar site in 2002 for its wise use, India Sunderbans has been listed as an ecological marvel. “The conservation of the wetland has always been a priority as it is home to several rare and endangered avian and aquatic species,” said Sinha.

“Till now, the Sunderbans has been viewed as a mangrove delta. Now that it is considered wetlands of international significant work upstream. Heaven metals discharged in Kolkata and at the Bantala Leather Complex cannot flow into the Sunderbans. Also, around 14 rivers have run dry. At least some of them needs to be revived,” said environmentalist Arurag Danda.

The state government believes the Ramsar tag will help promote the Sunderbans as an eco-tourism hotspot. Environmentalists though believe it will ensure better conservation as any threat to the ecosystem or change in character will mean non recognition and an international embarrassment.

Environment scientist and secretary of wildlife conservation action group Nature, Environment & Wildlife Society (NEWS), Biswajit Roy Chowdhury, say the listing on the Ramsar site is another feather in the cap. Sunderbans has already been declared a UN World Heritage Site. “I expect more UN and IUCN led research on Sunderbans and measures to protect birds,” he said.